Home life

Footprints on the Sidewalk: Getting Philosophical

Be patient with me today,  I’m going to get philosophical.

I was walking the dog (Bella) this morning.  Early.  Sixish.  Just following the route I usually do, having my morning talk with God, planning my day, clearing my head and enjoying the quiet.  Stopping once in a while when Bella found a good place along the way to sniff.

Snow had fallen during the night, dropping a fresh coating on sidewalks and driveways.  As I turned into a church drive I walk along as I head back home, I noticed that no one had yet walked on the drive since the snow had fallen.  The straight flat black asphalt of the drive lay just below that white covering, hidden and undisturbed by man, beast or automobile.

As I stared at the driveway, about to take my first step, it suddenly occurred to me my day was much like that path I was about to take: new, fresh and, as of yet, undisturbed.  I had a plan for the day just as I had a plan for my walk back home.  But, at the end of the day, if I (or someone else) were to look back over the course my feet took, what would they say about me?

Would they say that I followed the straight path I laid out or did some temptation pull me off the path somewhere along the way?  During the walk, did I somehow lose focus and then lose my direction and start wandering aimlessly for a while before getting back on the path?  Or did I not return?   Did I hear a call from someone in need along the way and stop to help them, or did I ignore the cry and keep going?

Perhaps I decided not to take that usual path and did my footprints show I struck off on a new and unexplored direction.

Being out of work gives one time to stop and think. I’m beginning a book a friend gave me called  “Zen and the art of making a living,” by Laurence G. Boldt.  It’s a big book, a guide to getting a job but to discovering one’s passion and then shaping it into a “meaningful and practical career.”

I don’t know if I will get through it but it’s interesting one to me especially at this point in my life.  Among the quotes in the book is one by Leonardo da Vinci: “Make your work to be in keeping with your purpose.”

That’s what I am looking for.  It would be wonderful to have a career is in tune with my purpose.  It also would be great to have a career that provides income enough to allow me to pursue that purpose after hours.

It would also be great to just have a job.

This morning I started to walk across that fresh asphalt.  The dog however had other ideas. She stopped to sniff and then to pee.  I waited.  She finished and looked up at me to see where we were going to go next.  I looked at the fresh snow on the path and the higher mounds along the sides.  I looked back a the path.  I moved on.

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New Post for a New Year

It’s a brand new year. Starting 2010 with a visit to family (daughter, son-in-law and grandson in Grand Rapids).   Being with family and grow closer to them is a good way to start.  Makes for a good resolution too.   Add to that one, grow closer to God.   And grow closer to my wife.

Oh yes, and get a job.

Four resolutions for 201o for me.  At least for right now.  I figure the list will grow.  Being “in transition” in one’s career gives one time to think, to look for opportunities outside the box/cubicle and to seek one’s passion.

Happy New Year.

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Surviving a Michigan Winter

Ready for a secret to getting through anything Michigan’s Mother Nature dishes out this winter?

jeans graphicHere you go:  Flannel-lined blue jeans.

Honest.

Yep. That’s it.  You can wear ’em outdoors and laugh at the cold.  Wear them indoors and dial down the thermostat (and even if you don’t, you still won’t be too warm).   Wear them out on the town and no one will ever know.

Jeans are about the most comfortable and versatile pants on the planet. They have one big shortcoming.   Jeans are ice cold in winter.   Basically, they seem to absorb the icy temps instantly and then transfer that cold directly to your legs and other body parts.

However, put a layer of flannel between the cotton and the leg and the chill disappears.  Do it and I’d bet you’d never know you were in the middle of a Michigan winter.

I started wearing flannel lined jeans a dozen years ago when Santa brought me a pair.   Now I have several.  I dig them out of the closet around Dec. 1 and put them away March 10, the end of my 100 days of winter (see earlier blog).

I get my jeans from Eddie Bauer, although a number of other retailers stock them also.   There are other types of pants besides jeans that contain a layer of flannel.   However, I don’t think those other pants hang right so I stick with jeans.   I might be 54 and married, but I still like to look somewhat stylish.   No stripes with plaids unless absolutely necessary.

Bottom line:  Flannel-lined jeans might help you survive a Michigan winter.  Put a pair on your Christmas list.   You’ll thank me for it.

Honest.

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Choosing an Insurer

Industry experts say you should  shop around for  insurance.  According to an Oct. 9, 2009 article in The Wall Street Journal, “prices in the intensely competitive auto-insurance business are based on so many different factors, and they are calculated in so many different ways, that shopping several different companies really could help you save hundreds of dollars every six months.”

Here are a few tips from the WSJ article quoted above.

  • Your financial behavior matters.Companies look at credit scores.  The higher the score, the lower the premium.
  • Compare prices both with insurers that sell directly and those that sell through agents.  Prices may vary a lot, and though agents receive a commission, they aren’t always more expensive.
  • Loyalty cuts both ways. Car-insurance companies want to win over new customers, but at the same time, they reward those who stay put.
  • The discounts are in the details. People who have multiple policies with the same company often qualify for discounts.
  • Price matters, but so does service. The last thing a person wants after an accident is an insurer that is slow to respond or pay.  Check out the company’s reputation.

Happy insurance hunting. Oh, and if you live in the Detroit Metropolitan area and need a good agent, give Kristin Madden a call over at AAA. She’s a good friend, a good agent and an honest person. She will do her best to get you the coverage you need at a fair price. Kristin can be reached at (248) 553-3700, ext. 491.

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The 100 days of Winter

winter scene

Winter starts today, Dec. 1. At least, that’s the beginning of the season according to my father. He would tell my brother and I that winter here in Michigan was 100 days long and started the first day of December.

I continue to use his calendar, although I think my dad, who passed away 11 years ago, was a bit of an optimist. Instead of 100 days, I’ve decided winter is 110 days long. That puts the end about March 10 instead of March 1.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy winter, especially once the snow flies. I enjoy the beauty of the white stuff and look forward each year to getting out to cross-country ski and go snowshoeing, or just walk immediately following a snowfall when all is white and glistening in the sunlight or moonlight. This year will be the first year talking my new dog Bella. I’ll see what she thinks of the white powder.

But I have to admit, as much as I like winter, I’m not too keen on the icy blasts that accompany the snow. Or on the need for jackets, hats, scarves and gloves. I do enjoy summer more.  I will enjoy the upcoming season. But also, I will begin 110-day countdown to spring.

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Ringing the Army’s Bell

Last week, I rang a bell for the Salvation Army. Now, I donate to the Army every year, sometimes by check and sometimes by sticking a few bucks in the kettle, however, this was the first time I actually volunteered to do something to help their cause.

I signed up online and picked a Kroger store in Northville, Michigan, a few miles from my home. I had a few butterflies in my stomach as I arrived at the site a few minutes before my 2:00 p.m.,  two-hour shift was set to begin What if no one arrived to put up the kettle? What if I did something to make me and the Army look bad? And the worst fear: What if was a failure as a bellringer and no one donated?

As it turned out, all my fears were unfounded. Just after I arrived, a man pulled up in a car, jumped out, hung a kettle, locked it to the stand, wished me luck and was back on his way. I picked up the bell, took a deep breathe and started ringing. As I did, I read the rules attached to the stand. They included such things as smile; Say “thank you;” dress for the weather (too late for that one since I had already arrived); and do NOT badger, coerce, ask or beg people to donate.

Although people didn’t flock to my kettle during my shift, there was a steady stream of donors. I decided that my shift would be a success if my kettle received more money than the garbage bin across from me received garbage. It wasn’t even close. People were generous with money and stingy with garbage.

The only problem I had was trying to attract people with a catchy tune. It’s hard because I ‘m not very musical; plus the bell only plays one note. I tried to vary my ringing cadence at times to see if that attracted more people than steady ringing. Changing the tune also helped to pass the time since bell ringing can be tedious. And while a few people commented on my ability to carry (ring) a tune, not many did, so I’m not sure if it was any more profitable for the Army.

As my shift ended my replacement arrived. I gladly handed him the bell and thanked him for volunteering. I even dropped a buck into his kettle.

I have a repeat engagement at Kroger’s next week. The weather may not be as warm as it was for me this time, but that’s ok. Ringing for a good cause provides its own warmth.

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Very Disappointed in a Red Devil Product

A couple of weeks ago, I purchased a Caulk Devil from my local hardware store to remove some old caulk around my windows and replace it with new. I had been looking for something that would do both in order to prepare my home for another Michigan winter. The item from Red Devil seemed to fit the bill; plus it was inexpensive and made by a company whose name I was familiar with and thought made quality products.

Anyway, a couple days later (long enough for the receipt to have been lost) I tried to remove some old caulk. Now one would think that a company making a caulk remover tool would make sure said device  would be harder than the caulk it was meant to remove; however, the Red Devil people apparently don’t agree. I ruined the tool in the first 12 seconds of use and 12 inches of caulk. The edges are worn away and it isn’t usable as a removal tool. The soft plastic the tool is made with doesn’t cut it–or in my experience, doesn’t remove it.

Now I accept the fact that the caulk around my windows is rock-hard. I accept the fact that one doesn’t get much in the way of tools these days for four bucks and change. But c’mon folks. If the tool isn’t made to remove hardened caulk it should say so right on the packaging. Maybe right below the line that reads, “Removes old caulk quickly and easily.”

Red Devil has a website that features a contact us page. And so I did. I sent them an email expressing my dissatisfaction with their product and explained why.

I didn’t even ask for a refund, but I did ask them for an acknowledgment. I haven’t heard back from them and it’s been 10 days.  Along with assuming a caulk removal tool would remove caulk, I d like to believe that a Contact Us form would result in someone contacting me to follow-up. Maybe something along the lines of “we will look into your problem” or “We value our customers and are sorry about what happened.”  I realize that Red Devil is a big company and it might be tough to respond to thousands of emails each day. Still, if you have a site and invite comments, you need to respond in a timely manner. Instead of get nothing.

Oh, as to the caulk, it’s still there. I ended up caulking around the old stuff.

And I used another company’s product.

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Website Recipe

Last week, I met some friends I used to work with at AAA Michigan.  Kathy Vander was one of them.  A gifted filmmaker with several awards to her credit, Kathy has branched onto the Internet and, with some friends, created a site called SavoryTales.com.  It’s a recipe site, but with a twist.  Savory tales provides short videos featuring the stories behind its recipes.

Most families have recipes they trot out on special occasions, recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation or which have a story attached to them that makes them special.  Making the dish and sharing it with family and friends helps connect generations and tickle memories.

Two desserts sprang to mind as we talked.  Both are pies, one cranberry and the other apple cream.  The former comes from my mother and the latter from an aunt, my mother’s sister.  Both the bakers have passed on but their recipes remain. Both pies are delicious (at least to my mind) and both bring back strong memories.

My mom used to make cranberry pie for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I’m not sure where the recipe came from, maybe from her family of Mennonites. It was just one of those menu items that would grace the table after the main course —well, except for one holiday.

Cranberries pie has to be refrigerated.  Since refrigerator space was at a premium just before a holiday at our house, my mom would sometimes store pies in an uninsulated entry way we had right off the front door.  One holiday my brother came over with his dog.  A big dog.  A bouvier.   When we sat down to eat, we needed to put the dog somewhere  so she wouldn’t be a pest as we ate dinner.  Someone suggested the entry way.

We ate dinner, the dog ate dessert.

As for the apple cream, my aunt, my mom’s sister, used to make it for me whenever I’d come to visit her at her home in Indiana.  She was a great cook, baker and candy maker.  Even after her husband died and she grew feeble, she still made me an apple cream pie whenever I came down.  The pie was wonderful in and of itself, but having her make it for me made me feel very special and made the pie that much tastier.  Mine is good but not as good as hers. Maybe it was the love she added.

I don’t think either recipe is original, although I’ve not been able to find my mom’s version of the cranberry on any other recipe sites. I’ve offered up both to Kathy along with the stories. I offer them up to you.

Apple Cream Pie
5 c. apples sliced (preferably a dry apple such as yellow transparent)

Put into an unbaked 9” pie crust

Mix together and pour over apples:

o        ¾ c. sugar
o        1/3 c. flour
o        1 c. cream or half and half
o        ¼ t. salt

Combine 1 T. sugar and ½ t. cinnamon and spread over pie.

Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes and 350 for 45-50 minutes or until middle bubbles.

Cool. Keep refrigerated.

Cranberry Pie

Have a baked pie crust ready.

Boil together for 5 minutes:

o        2 c. water
o        2 c. sugar

Add 4 c. washed cranberries. Boil until mushy and some of the liquid has boiled away. (Time not given on recipe).

Strain into bowl to remove pulp.

Dispose of pulp. Return strained mixture to stove and heat to boiling. Make a thickening of 2 heaping tablespoons of cornstarch with just enough cold water to turn into a paste. Add to cranberries and cook until thick. Don’t overcook or mixture will start to thin. (Time not given on recipe.)

Put mixture in baked pie shell. Refrigerate. Serve with whipped cream.

Keep away from dogs.

The last is my suggestion and not part of the recipe.

That’s all for now, folks.

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Puppy in Training

My puppy Bella is not happy.  Come to think of it, neither am I.  We’re both being kept on a short leash; the dog by me and me by my wife.  The reason the dog is on a short leash is that she pulls when we walk and we needed to put a stop to it.

The pulling was not a big deal for me since I outweigh our little beasty by more than 100 pounds and can keep her firmly in hand even as she strains her 70 pounds of muscle against the retractable leash I liked to use.  That’s not to say I liked her pulling and, as chief cook and dog walker around our house, I was trying to get her to stop in my own way and while taking my own sweet time doing it.

Unfortunately, my wife could not afford to be as patient, mainly because she is not as strong as I am and quite petite.  During those times she took the dog, the dog often ended up taking her for a walk instead of the other way around.  That got her worried that the dog might pull her down or get out of her grasp.

So, we’ve switched leashes and now the dog is on a short tether and is kept firmly by my side at all times as we walk.  Today was the first day I’ve walked her like this and she is confused and maybe a bit unhappy.  She’s still willing to walk and I do give her some slack when we get to a spot with lots of good smells.  She continues to pull and I continue to keep her close by my side to keep her from pulling.

My brother (who trains dogs and agrees with using a short leash) said it will take some time to break her of the bad habits I’ve let her develop.  Walking may not be as much fun for either one of us but it’s the way it needs to be–at least for a while.  I’ve gotten used to being on a short leash and she will too.

Now if I could only find a way to keep her from jumping. (I’m open to suggestions.)

That’s it for now, folks.

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Making Soup

Do you know how much soup a head of cabbage makes?  You may not care because: 1) you never make soup; 2) you hate cabbage in any form; 3) you are too busy working to ever think about it.

Until recently, I would have chosen numbers 1 and 3, but now I have time (lots) to do things like make soup and so I decided to give cabbage soup a try.

I had purchased a head of cabbage at a farmers’ market in Livonia on Saturday at what I considered to be a bargain: $1.75 for the head.  I then found a recipe called Healing Cabbage Soup at allrecipes.com, gathered up the simple ingredients and yesterday I attacked the  cabbage with a cleaver and went to work a-soupmakin’.

Let me digress from this soup post to say that I am not a soup maker.   I am more of a baker.  I also do most of the cooking at my house so I do know my way around a kitchen and wield  a mean spatula.  That said, I have never had any luck with soup.

That record remains intact–although I have to say that I did make soup.  Soup that was not half-bad and that is good since I now have about 22 cups of soup stored in two big Tupperware containers.

The downside is that I also made a mess since I didn’t realize how big a pot was needed for 8 cups of water, 8 cups of chicken broth, 28 ounces of canned tomatoes and a head of cabbage, coarsely chopped.  I also didn’t realize that we lacked a pot big enough for said ingredients.

Needless to say, I made a mess.  But I also made soup.  Lots and lots of soup. Luckily, it’s not half-bad.  I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do with it all.  I had some for dinner last night and lunch today.   Maybe I can take it for one more meal before I’m tired of cabbage.

As to the rest, I will probably freeze it in small containers to thaw and eat it over the course of the winter.  I am willing to give it away but am not sure how popular cabbage soup is with the public.   Drop me an email if you live near Livonia, Michigan and I will bring you some. It may be the only chance you get.  I think I will call it quits to soup making and stick with cookies and cakes.  Not only do I know how to make those, but cookies beats cabbage every time.

That’s it for now, folks.

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